All Wrapped Up: Where Was Jesus Born?

When you think about Christmas, what comes to mind? 

Maybe family, friends, food? 

Turkey, tinsel, trimmings? 

Carols, cards, cakes? 

Or, maybe, gifts, presents?

Christmas Day is fast approaching, and there may be some exchanging of gifts. Maybe you are really excited to give that special someone that special gift, maybe you are really excited to open some gifts, to tear open some presents…but before you can see what is inside, before you can watch someone open their gift, you have to unwrap it, don’t you, and before that, someone took the time to wrap up that gift.

In Luke 2.7-12 we read of a very special gift all wrapped up.

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Interestingly, one line of thinking can show that the shepherds who watched sheep near Bethlehem were no ordinary shepherds, but that they were there to care for the sheep who bred lambs for the temple. These were temple flocks and therefore very special sheep.

I read that

“Bethlehem’s shepherds were known to care for the temple flock. These men may have also protected and cared for the lambs used in temple sacrifice.”

Dr. John Macdonald gives more detail,

Consider the possibility that these were not shepherds of ordinary sheep.

Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) provides an intriguing answer to our question. He was Jewish by birth and training. Later, he became a follower of Jesus, studied and taught biblical theology in Scotland, and wrote The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Writing about these shepherds, Edersheim referenced the Jewish Mishnah

The Mishnah is a collection of documents recording oral traditions governing the lives of Jewish people during the period of the Pharisees. As such, an understanding of the Mishnah gives us insight into how Jewish people lived during the time of Jesus.

One regulation in the Mishnah “expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wildernesses – and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services” (Bab K. 7:7; 80a).

Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and their surrounding fields were not in the wilderness where ordinary flocks of sheep were kept. Therefore, according to the Jewish regulations, the flocks under the care of the shepherds near Bethlehem must have been “for the Temple-services.” These shepherds watched over sheep destined as sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. 

These guys were, then, trained specially to raise lambs for the temple, their task was to raise sacrificial lambs. They had to make sure that when a lamb was offered without spot or blemish (Exodus 12.5, 1 Peter 1.9), that this truly was the case. Apparently, these lambs were wrapped in cloths to prevent injury or harm.

Back in Luke we read that 

“…she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger…

…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The place where these special lambs were born and raised was in a place called Migdal Edar, “The tower of the flock.”  on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This watchtower was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild animals. In this building the priests would bring in the sheep that were about to give birth to their lambs. The tower of the flock at Bethlehem is the perfect place for the Lamb of God to be born (John 1.29).


In the very place where thousands of sacrificial lambs had been born before Him, now the ultimate gift of God to the world had come.


Micah 4.8 foretells the place where the Savior would be born,

“As for you, O tower (Migdal) of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Due to the fact that the shepherds were themselves under the care of Rabbis, these shepherd-priests would maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. What a perfect place for the Lamb of God to be born, a ceremonially clean place where sacrificial lambs were born. The manger in the tower of the flock was not a smelly stable with other animals as we often see at this time of year, but the perfect place in the perfect place (Micah 4.8, 5.2).

I read recently that,

“After the lambs were born, the priestly shepherds would place the lambs in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as the manger and wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves until they had calmed down so they could be inspected to meet the requirement of being without spot or blemish.”

“…she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger

…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2.7, 12)

What was the sign?  The baby wrapped in cloths. 

Where was the baby lying?  In a manger. 

Do you think the shepherds understood when they were told this? 

Absolutely!

There was no need for the angels to give the shepherds a map-pin or directions to the birthplace of Jesus, the sign of the manger could only mean their manger at the Tower of the Flock where they routinely birthed and wrapped sacrificial lambs. We can reasonably conclude that these shepherds knew exactly who this baby was, and exactly where He was born.


They had now been told that the reality to which their life’s work pointed had now arrived!


William Barclay said 

“It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, and He was our sacrificial lamb.

Jesus was wrapped as a baby in the traditional cloths of lambs and placed in a manger. He was wrapped as a baby, wrapped as a lamb, and wrapped as a gift. He is the Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world; spotless and without blemish.

The point of all this is to say that He is the real gift we are celebrating this time of year, He was wrapped; wrapped as a baby, wrapped as a lamb, and wrapped as a gift. 

The angels announced the birth of a Saviour that day in the city of David, which is the gift that we all need, not just at Christmas time, but today, tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, and every single day after that, too. 

How excited will you be on the 25th to open a gift from a loved one, or to watch a loved one open your gift…that is the feeling we need when we think of the gift of God to the world, His Son, the gift of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the better gift.

He is the gift of a clean slate before God, 

He is the gift of reconciliation, 

He is the gift of eternal life, 

He is the gift of the opportunity to have a right relationship with God,

He is the gift of forgiveness from our sins.

He knew that we needed that gift, even before we did. Before we even knew it was there, before the foundation of the world, this gift was ready, poised, waiting to be accepted, through faith in Him alone. This gift was always plan A for humanity, never plan B. That’s what we gather to celebrate at this time of year, to commemorate and to consolidate.

All we have to do is take the gift. 

Will you take it? 

Have you taken it?

Will you take the free gift of salvation that Christ wants to give you right now? 

I pray you do now, tomorrow, and every day.

What a wonderful gift, the best gift ever given.

Luke 2.7 – The Simplicity of Wonder

Often times nowadays when we want to tell a great story we embellish the details, don’t we. We don’t lie, but what is good we really emphasise, and what is not so great, we don’t spend much time on. Here in Luke 2.7, the simplicity of the birth of Jesus is said in just 8 words,

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”

There is no need for embellishment, there is no need for extra details to be overemphasised, there is no need for unneeded words. 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”

The first three-quarters of the Bible have been looking forward to this date.

The fist two chapters of Luke have dealt with events leading up to this date.

The first few millennia of the earth since Genesis 3.15 have been looking forward to this date.

There is no need to add to the simplicity of the wonderful events that took place that night.

We know they changed the course of human history. We know this is when an all-powerful creator God pierced the space-time continuum and took up residence among us. We know that this moment is the beginning of a point in history from which much of the Western world would begin to orbit (whether they know or acknowledge it or not). We know.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”

As we move into this Christmas season day by day, it is easy to fall prey to the trappings and temptations of the season; one more of those…buying that extra…hanging that additional…eating/drinking just one more…Really though, the simplicity of the account of Luke gives us a model for the season, truth first. 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”

Truth first, she gave birth to her firstborn son…Christmas is about the birth of Jesus.

Enjoy the accompaniments to this time of year, for sure, but always keeping the simplicity of the wondrous events of that night first and foremost.

O Holy Night

Christmas is upon us again, and it seems a shame not to look at a Christmas Hymn whilst we have the chance. 

Reading around O Holy Night we learn that it is a

“well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) written by wine merchant and poet Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). In both the French original and the English version of the carol, as well as in many other languages, the text reflects on the birth of Jesus as humanity’s redemption.”

It begins like this,

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.

In the Word, ‘holy’ means to be set apart and was there ever a night like this, set apart as the night of Jesus’ birth, the day that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Luke 2.8, John 1.14)?

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

As a result of the fall in Genesis, the world was in sin and error, but the birth of Jesus offered a way for the world and everything and everyone in it to be restored to how things should be, to be restored to right relationship with God (Genesis 3, Romans 8.22, John 3.16).

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night divine!

The Word tells us that one day every knee will bow at the name of Jesus (Philippians 2.10-11). One day we will be confronted with the reality to which our faith and hope and trust are anchored, and we will bow before the Lord and hear the angels worshiping Him forevermore (Revelation 5.11-14).

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we;
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Enjoy this Christmas hymn today as we prepare to celebrate and commemorate the birth of our Lord and Saviour on that holy night!

End Of The Story?

Almost every year we hear the Christmas story told (which is a great thing), but, do we ever read on?

Luke 2 is an amazing chapter, detailing God’s coming to earth in human flesh, the birth of Jesus. We read of shepherds, we read of angels, we read of Jesus being called Jesus, we even flick back to Matthew 2 to see the wise men coming…then we’re done.

But, there is some fascinating stuff in the rest of Luke 2; Jesus is presented at the temple (not too dissimilar to the baby dedications we do), and we read a little about the childhood of our Lord.

One verse in particular stood out to me as I read over the story again recently;

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.

Luke 2.40

Particularly the first half, the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. How apt is that for us this time of year; we celebrate Jesus’ first coming then go back to our daily business…we tick over into a new year and slowly but surely return to what is ‘normal’ for us.

Rather, how we ought to follow the example of Jesus – growing, becoming stronger, becoming filled with wisdom.

If He can lay aside, temporarily, His heavenly glory and dwell among us to show us the way, surely we can rouse ourselves to grow in our faith this coming year, surely we can become stronger in our faith, stronger in service, stronger in love, stronger in our relationships this coming year, and surely we should be seeking the wisdom that God gives so freely to those who ask this coming year.

Jesus’ story didn’t end after the angels, shepherds, and wise men went back to doing what they were doing. Likewise, our Christmas story that we replay each and every year is not finished by the morning of the 26th, rather, it should be the catalyst for growth, for change, and for pushing ahead towards the upward call of God in Jesus.

Saint Nicholas

Every year we see the big red plastic models of Santa Claus rolled out of the store cupboard and stood next to tins of shortbread biscuits and jars of stuff we wouldn’t buy for the rest of the year.

Sometimes, he even plays the saxophone and dances.

His big, jolly, rotund face is everywhere, isnt it, he is in movies, books, songs, people dress up as him…Santa is a big deal!

People want him to be real so badly that it almost feels as if he is a real person for a few weeks a year. But, what lots of people don’t know is that Santa Claus, Perre Noel, or whatever you want to call him, whilst not a real person, is certainly based on a real, genuine person from history.

Wayne Taylor writes,

“There was a man named Nicholas who lived in the Roman Province of Asia (now the country of Turkey) in the fourth century A.D.

People called him Saint Nicholas because he lived a devout, Christian life from an early age.

It is believed that the name Santa Claus came from the Dutch translation of his name, Sinter Klaas.”

Saint Nicholas was a generous man, the most famous story of him involves him giving money to three daughters of a poor man (supposedly into their stocking hanging by their bed) so that the girls could get married.

Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith by the Roman Emperor Diocletian when serving as Bishop of Myra, but was released when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. He resumed his faithful and fervent Christian life until the end.

“Saint Nicholas was a real man and was filled with the spirit of joy and giving, because he believed not in a myth but in the divine Savior.”

Wayne Taylor

So, the big, fat, jolly man in the red suit may star in the movies, may have flying fantasy animals, but is a myth. Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, was a real person who gave himself freely to others because of his faith in a Divine Saviour who gave Himself freely once and for all.

What a great example for us this Christmas season. 

Who put the X in Xmas?

Who put the X in Christmas, or, in Xmas?

Should we, as believers, feel ok with seeing ‘Xmas’ written everywhere at this time of year?

This time of year it’s easy to feel all angry and holier-than-thou when we see

‘Happy Xmas!’.

There is a sense of dismay, even anger, when we feel that Christ has been taken out of Christmas, even if just semantically, not in a wider sense (different issue!)

But, when we pause and take a step back, look into why Xmas is not so heretical, we see that this idea of our Lord and Saviour being removed from the very time of year we celebrate His birth by writing ‘Xmas’ is actually founded in nothing.

In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, Christ is written 

Χριστός.

See, as Dave Shirley writes, 


“In the Greek alphabet the letter X (chi) may be used as an abbreviation for Christ, a symbol of the anointed Messiah.”


Think, then, about growing in the knowledge of X,

experiencing the love of X,

living in the grace of X,

being covered by the blood of X,

and you will soon start to see X as Christ, and Christ as X.

When you read X, did you actually say ‘Christ’ in your mind?!

Same person, different language.

Same meaning, different letters.

Same life-giving, sin-covering, and death-defeating Jesus. 

So, X put the X in Xmas, just as He put the Christ in Christmas.